A brief history of PDF brand guidelines and brand new standards.

This time we want to talk about a phenomenon that has roots in the '90s.

Designers can work on hyper-complex, tokenized design systems, yet when it's time to send brand guidelines they say "here's a PDF"...

firstly, we want to say that we understand. We understand how the habit of delivering pdf guidelines to clients could arise. Because looking a little bit into history we can discover that PDF (as it literally is acronymic for "Portable Document Format") was developed by Adobe Systems in 1993. Essentially, the format was used when you need to save files that cannot be modified but still need to be easily shared and printed.

    The '90s was a time of great battle. The competition was tough; many other formats were developed, aiming to give users an easy way of viewing documents:

    DjVu (.djvu)
    Envoy (.evy)
    Common Ground Digital Paper (.dp)
    Farallon Replica (.rpl)

    Just imagine, we were t close that DjVu becoming the de-facto standard. Quit hilarious to think that we were very close to saying “Here's our DjVu guidelines…”

    By definition, all these formats are designed as fixed documents. It made sense because these were times when brands also were more static, brandbooks literally were printed on books.

    PDF is great for printing music festival tickets, sending illegal e-books to friends, and collecting invoices but when it comes to brand guidelines in 2023 — we need a new format and approach.

    Going forward, we will use the acronym PBF.

    To consolidate and capture our learnings we have captured 6 brand design insights for skeptics on the importance of living online brandbooks.

    ° 01 Experiments.

    In our humble opinion, only the brands that are not afraid to experiment will survive in this constant battle for people's attention.

    Here you are seeing Celine Dion wearing an ultra-personalized Dior bag. Unfortunately, this is not done by the Dior branding team but by the Instagram parody account @hey_reilly which is famous for messing around with fashion brands that take themself too seriously.

    Dior did reshare this post and after seeing dozens of LOL reactions across social media, it's clear that this is the future — where you as a brand owner don't take yourself and your systems too seriously because people want to take their favorite brands and integrate them into their own lifestyles in a way, they see the best fit.

    ° 02 Culture.

    This meme is a great analogy for how a brand's social media feed looks like. Everyone just has their own mind and ideas…

    What really means to create a brand system? Is it a set of rules, or is it a set of defined assets?

    Let's keep exploring…

    ° 03 Creativity over rules.

    Coke's recent campaign has caught our attention. Wieden+Kennedy agency introduced new design identity for the Coke Trademark, conceptualizing the ‘Hug’ logo, inspired by iconic packages.

    But if you think about it... in the past, this could be a violation of brand standards. This would literally be an illustration in the dos and don'ts section in the style guide as an example of what you shouldn't do with the logo. Rules about “never ever stretching our logo" is the new age of brand creativity.

    ° 04 Generative AI creative production.

    We are very inspired by the impact of tools like Midjourney and DALL-E. These AI-generated pictures of "Swoosh Nike Brand Expressions" experimented by designer Nando Costa. He used a 20-30 word prompt in MidJourney too get to these results over the course of a few hours.

    If you've spent a few hours playing with images with just text prompts, you most likely agree that tools alike will change the way we do everything across brand creative production. Does this again challenge our thinking about how the future brand design decision and future-proofing - look like?

    ° 05 Multi-sensory touchpoints.

    More and more brands start to recognize that their products have signature sounds and even build complete sonic brand identity systems.

    Yet audio branding agencies still deliver sonic identity style guides in PDF with links to Dropbox audio files.

    ° 06 Branding team impact.

    Consistency isn't a goal. Being consistent with the right things is. What kind of brand guidebook do you need to inspire brand creativity yet protect the core style principles?
    — We need practical manuals.

    Instead of rule books, you need manual books which inspire brand creativity, not just brand consistency.

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